Troubled dust, but dust that dreams

As he struggled with the exasperating enigma of existence, Scottish agnostic, Richard Holloway, couldn’t escape the feeling that there must be more to life than this world. 

  • “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”

From dust to glory 

Jesus broke the grip of the curse of dust! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).

  • “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). For “God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot (decay) in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead… Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us” (Acts 2:32-34, NLT).

God did this “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Yes, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9). 

Security in an uncertain world

Paul emphatically and unequivocally states that no experience in this life can alter the certainty of God’s love for us.

  • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Rest securely and confidently in what God has done for you in Christ! And remind yourself often that, 

  • “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

Steve Cornell

Every day is NOT a great day

jewish-wedding-breaking-glassIf you’re unfamiliar with Jewish weddings, it might catch you by surprise at the end of the ceremony when the groom steps on a thin glass wrapped in a napkin — smashing it under his foot.

I wish this breaking of the glass tradition was included in every wedding. It offers a very important reminder that where there is rejoicing, there should be trembling. This idea is based on Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

According to the history of the tradition, breaking the glass served to encourage sobriety and balanced behavior. One Rabbi said, “A wedding should not be sheer undisciplined merriment, and the breaking of expensive glass stunned the guests into tempering their cheerfulness. The ceremony serves, then, to attain tempered emotions.”

The custom could be used as a vivid object lesson to teach us that even in times of great joy and celebration we must also realize life and marriage will not always be easy. There will be times of difficulty,  sadness and sorrow. It serves to remind the couple and all who are present at the wedding of how fragile life and relationships can be.

The breaking of a glass is also reflects the Talmud’s assertion that, “joining two people in marriage is as difficult as splitting the sea.” On a more humorous note, another Rabbi suggested that it might be the last time the groom gets to put his foot down.

Our Church services

I thought of the breaking of the glass in light of Christian Church services where so much emphasis is placed on everything being “wonderful” and “great” and “amazing.” Do we strain to present ourselves in such positive terms that we give a one-sided view of reality? More importantly, how does our emphasis fit with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the following verses?

  • Matthew 6:34 – “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  • John 15:20 – “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”.
  • John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • Acts 14:21-22 – “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Evidently instruction about hardships, trials and suffering was part of the core curriculum of disciple making. It was presented as something normal to life and especially to the Christian life.

Cultural shift

Do we now live in cultures that encourage unrealistic expectations of uninterrupted happiness? I find it troubling when the Church strains to paint everything in such positive terms that believers are shocked and perhaps disillusioned by trials and suffering.

I appreciate the way one writer approached this truth:

“We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian….” “many people believe God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey…”

“In this approach to following Jesus, there is no place for ambiguity, tension, struggle or any sense of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to believe that abundant life comes without pain and struggle. This mentality, however, directly opposes the type of self-denying life Jesus lived (Luke 22:42), and the inward dying and external pain Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Romans 5:3-5)” (By Zac Northen).

Hardships and Hope

Believers face sorrow like all people — but we do not sorrow like those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). We have access to the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles (II Corinthians 1:3-4). And we are encouraged to count is all joy when facing trails of many kinds (James 1:2-5). We also eagerly await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

One day “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). But until that day comes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

Do our gatherings reflect the tension of these truths? Are we equipping young people and new believers to understand the place of hardships and suffering in a context of hope? I get the desire to be positive but let’s not allow ourselves to be artificial or even dishonest in leaving out important truths that God has graciously revealed.

Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

Steve Cornell

What did Jesus teach about entering heaven?

Did Jesus preach the gospel?

Is there a difference between the way you invite people to receive salvation from God and the way Jesus did?

Is there consistency from the gospels through the epistles regarding how one is to be reconciled to God and assured of heaven?

Audio Resource: Listen to part 7 of In Step with the Master Teacher here.

Entrance requirements of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew

  • 5:20 – surpassing righteousness
  • 7:21 – doing the will of the father
  • 18:3-4 – childlike humility
  • 18:8-9 – amputation of sinful offenses
  • 19:16-24 – love of riches as an obstacle
  • 25:21, 23 – the faithful servant entering the joy of the Master

Five verdicts of the gospel

  1. I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving of God’s judgment         (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. I cannot improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6;Galatians 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).                                                               
  3. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Romans 3;Titus 3:5-7).
  4. What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ took the judgment my sin deserved (Galatians 3:13;Romans 5:8; 8:3-4;II Cor. 5:17,18,21).
  5. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39;John 1:12;3:16-18,36; 10:27-28).

Romans 5:6, 8-11 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Steve Cornell

 

A Sure and Contagious Hope

This world has a way of turning on us when we try to make it our home. It disappoints and frustrates us. It cannot offer what is necessary to quench the deepest longings of our hearts. It leaves us with a sense that we were made for something better, something more. We cannot escape a nagging feeling that things are not the way they were meant to be or ought to be. 

Not everyone experiences this dissatisfaction with the same intensity. Endless distractions and unfinished bucket lists easily suppress the feeling that everything might be “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But as we fight against the feeling that dust we are and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19), we soon realize that all our pursuits and projects in this life must come to an end.

Something almost always comes along to shatter our dreams and raise the age old question of meaning. Even the person with shallow assumptions will feel the uncertainty and insecurity of life in a finite world.

“Happiness based on worldly security alone is endlessly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which may come in the form of illness or inflation or the loss of a loved one. There are all manner of threats to the meaning of our lives both internal and external which can conspire to destroy it if it is inadequately grounded” (Clark Pinnock).

Even our hope in Christ is not adequate if it is “only for this life we have hope in Christ.” Such a narrow and limited hope would mark us as “people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19).

Christian faith offers a structure of deeper meaning based upon the unalterable love of God the Father. With the apostle Paul, we say, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Faith in Christ secures for us a “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:19-21).

Christians locate their hope not in a religion but in a personal Savior, in Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:1). This hope inspires us to press on in the face of distressing and discouraging circumstances. The wonderfully deep mystery we experience now is Christ in us, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

We share in the “hope of eternal life” and are designated by God, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2;3:7); those who have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

But this great hope requires patience. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

What a treasure it is that, “….through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Finally, our hope is meant to be contagious — especially when it appears to lack circumstantial reason. This was the case for the persecuted Christians who were encouraged to “set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts” and to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Are people attracted to your hope? 

Reaching for hope that is larger than this world is intuitive to humans and reminds us that we were made for more than this life? “Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert Roberts).

Steve Cornell

In Step with the Master Teacher

Play Audio!

As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Steve Cornell 

 

Will Heaven solve our problems?

“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem” (C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed,” p. 55).

 The “problem” of evil

“Whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’

It’s not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too.”

“This may seem a lame response to evil. Are we merely to gag our questions, accept that it’s a mystery, and shut up? Surely we do far more from that? Yes, indeed. We grieve. We weep. We lament. We protest. We scream in pain and anger. We cry out, ‘How long must this kind of thing go on?’”

“As both rational and moral beings, made in the image of God, we want things to make sense. We have an innate drive, an insatiable desire, and almost infinite ability to organize and order the world in the process of understanding it. To understand things means to integrate them into their proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legitimate and truthful place within creation for everything we encounter. We instinctively seek to establish order, to make sense, to find reasons and purposes, to validate things and thus explain them”

“All of us struggle to make sense of the presence of evil in the midst of God’s good creation (though perhaps we are not meant to, and never can, ‘make sense’ of evil; the very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness—and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot make sense.”

“But evil, at least of the kind that seems to serve no higher purpose or is not necessary to accomplish some equal or greater good, makes no sense. It did not belong to God’s original good creation and will not belong to God’s new creation.”

  • “The Bible compels us to accept that there is a mysteriousness about evil that we simply cannot understand (and it is good we cannot).”
  • “The Bible allows us to lament, protest, and be angry at the offensiveness of evil (and it is right that we should).”

(from: Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith).

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell